At a press conference at the Olympic Sculpture Park this morning, several local environmentalists expressed their support for the pro-tunnel referendum, which will be on the August 16 ballot. (Leaving aside the details of the referendum, which are both arcane and beside the point "yes" vote is a proxy vote in favor of the tunnel, and a "no" vote is a proxy vote against it.)

The speakers today included Washington Forest Law Center director Peter Goldman; People for Puget Sound founder and viaduct stakeholders committee member Kathy Fletcher; Earthjustice board member Russ Daggatt; Cascade Land Conservancy advisory council member Maryanne Tagney-Jones; and Seattle Aquarium director Bob Davidson. Notably absent from the prot-tunnel's roster of environmentalists: Representatives from Seattle's major environmental groups, including Futurewise, Transportation Choices Coalition, and King County Conservation Voters. (Craig Benjamin, spokesman for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, says none of the big statewide environmental groups, like the Washington Conservation Voters and Washington Environmental Council, take positions on local issues.) The local Sierra Club is running the anti-tunnel campaign, which has also received funding from the national Sierra Club.

"The group could have been bigger today, and we're going to keep sweeping them up," said Let's Move Forward spokesman Alex Fryer, who attributed the relatively low turnout from greens to the fact that many people were out of town. "You're going to see more environmental groups come off the fence in the next few weeks."

KCCV organizer Jessica Brand says it's "pretty unlikely" that her group will take a position on the referendum, and says they weren't asked to participate in this morning's press conference. We have calls out to Futurewise and TCC to find out if they've taken positions on the referendum and whether the pro-tunnel group asked them to participate.

Although we were unable to attend the press conference (we were, ironically, stuck in a downtown tunnel), three of the participants---Goldman, Tagney-Jones, and Daggatt---shed some light on their support for the referendum in a piece for Crosscut, where they argue that the tunnel is more environmentally friendly than the surface/transit/I-5 alternative:

We have come to our decision carefully, after considering all the facts. The tunnel is not simply a “new” highway project but is the rebuilding of an important state highway corridor that is today seismically unsafe. The tunnel will give back Seattle its waterfront and make it a place with fewer cars and less noise and exhaust. It will create an enormous people-friendly park. It will prevent stormwater that drains a busy roadway from entering Puget Sound.

Some of our friends and colleagues in the environmental community oppose the tunnel as a misplaced investment in roads. We share their view that, in light of global warming and our transportation crisis, our area needs massive investments in all forms of non-car transportation.

Ultimately, however, we believe the tunnel strikes the appropriate balance and is a reasonable policy decision. The Viaduct replacement project is funded, places the financing in part on motorists, and includes $32 million for transit to be spent during the major phases of south end construction. That’s a good thing. The original agreement between the city of Seattle, King County, and the state of Washington committed King County to $190 million in additional transit. We must all rally behind the county and make sure these improvements are forthcoming.

Critics of the tunnel say the surface option is the best alternative. But it is our view that this option will put tens of thousands of cars on Alaskan Way, effectively cutting off our waterfront. That’s not good urban planning, and it’s not good for the environment. We know that tolls will lead many from using the tunnel but we think tunnel opponents are over-emphasizing this point; tolls can always be adjusted down over time. We also are not concerned about the cost overrun issue since preventing delay is among the best ways to prevent cost overruns and because we are confident the state and property owners whose property will skyrocket in value will pick up the tab.

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